Neil Robertson begins his quest to complete a hat-trick of Champion of Champions titles against debutant Fan Zhengyi on Tuesday.
The Australian, who headlines Group Three, is the second-most successful player in the history of the prestigious invitational event, with only Ronnie O’Sullivan (three) lifting the trophy on more occasions.
Robertson triumphed at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry in 2015 and 2019, while he was runner-up to Mark Allen in Milton Keynes the following year.
The Thunder is one of only four players to appear in every edition of the tournament since its introduction to the calendar in 2013, along with Judd Trump, Mark Selby and John Higgins.
This will only be the third event he has entered this season, although he arrives in Bolton fresh from reaching the semi-finals at the Northern Ireland Open, where he eventually succumbed to home favourite Allen.
The 2010 World champion, who reached the same stage at the eight-player Hong Kong Masters, will be a heavy favourite to prevail against Fan.
The Chinese cueist is one of six debutants to qualify for this year’s tournament, along with Zhao Xintong, Lee Walker, Robert Milkins, Hossein Vafaei and Mink Nutcharut.
Fan earned the right to do so following his triumph at the European Masters in February. Indeed, he overcame the likes of Kyren Wilson, Yan Bingtao, David Gilbert and Graeme Dott, before holding his nerve to edge out O’Sullivan 9-8 in the final.
However, the 21-year-old has subsequently struggled to kick on from his fairy-tale success; winning just two of the eight matches he has played since lifting the trophy in Milton Keynes.
The winner of this match will play either Kyren Wilson or Ryan Day in the Group Three final later on Tuesday.
Play gets underway at 1pm GMT with the match contested over the best of seven frames at the Bolton Whites Hotel.
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